From Teachings on Love by Thich Nhat Hanh

“Until we are able to love and take care of ourselves, we cannot be of much help to others.”

We begin practicing this love meditation on ourselves
May I be peaceful, happy and light in body and spirit.
May I be safe and free from injury.
May I be free from anger, afflictions, fear and anxiety.

After that we can practice on others (he/she)
May he/she be peaceful, happy and light in body and spirit.
May he/she be safe and free from injury.
May he/she be free from anger, afflictions, fear and anxiety.

After that we can practice including our selves with others (we),
May we be peaceful, happy and light in body and spirit.
May we be safe and free from injury.
May we be free from anger, afflictions, fear and anxiety.

We begin this practice by looking deeply into the skandha of form, which is our body. According to the Buddha, a human being is made of five skandhas (elements, heaps or aggregates): form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness. We are the king, and these elements are our territory. To know the real situations within ourselves, we have to survey our own territory thoroughly, including the elements within us that are at war with each other. To bring about harmony, reconciliation, and healing within, we have to understand ourselves. Looking and listening deeply, surveying our territory, is the beginning of love meditation.

Looking Deeply Into the Body

We begin by asking, How is my body in this moment? How was it in the past? How will it be in the future? Later, when we meditate on someone we like, someone neutral to us, someone we love and someone we hate, we also begin by looking at her physical aspects. Breathing in and out, we visualize her face; her way of walking, sitting and talking; her heart, lungs kidneys and all the organs in her body, taking as much time as we need to bring these details into awareness. But we always start with ourselves. When we see our own five skandhas clearly, understanding and love arise naturally, and we know what to do and what not to do to take better care of ourselves.

We look into our body to see whether it is at peace or suffering from illness. We look at the condition of our lungs, our heart our intestines, our kidneys, our liver, to see what the real needs of our body are. When we do, we will eat, drink and act in ways that demonstrate our love and our compassion for our body. Usually we just follow ingrained habits. But when we look deeply, we see that many of these habits harm our body and mind, so we work to transform these habits into ways conducive to good health and vitality.

Looking Deeply into Feelings

Next we observe our feelings whether they are pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. Feelings flow in us like a river, and each feeling is a drop in that river. We look into the river of our feelings and see how each feeling came to be. We see what has been preventing us from being happy, and we do our best to prevent those things. We practice the wondrous, refreshing and healing elements that are within us and in the world. Doing so, we become stronger and better able to love ourselves and others.

Looking Deeply into Perceptions—Are You Sure?

Then we meditate on our perceptions. The Buddha observed, The person who suffers most in this world is the person with many wrong perceptions…. And most of our perceptions are erroneous. We see a snake in the dark and we panic, but when our friend shines a light on it, we see that it is only a rope. We have to know which wrong perceptions cause us to suffer. Please calligraph the sentence, “Are you sure?” on a piece of paper and tape it to your wall. Love meditation helps us to learn to look with clarity and serenity in order to improve the way we perceive.

Looking Deeply into Mental Formations

Next we observe our mental formations, the ideas and tendencies within us that lead us to speak and act as we do. We practice looking deeply to discover the true nature of our mental formations how we are influenced by our individual consciousness and also by the collective consciousness of our family, ancestors and society. Unwholesome mental formations cause so much disturbance; wholesome mental formations bring about love, happiness and liberation.

Looking Deeply Into Consciousness

Finally we look at our consciousness. According to Buddhism, consciousness is like a field with every possible seed in it seeds of love, compassion, joy and equanimity; seeds of anger, fear, and anxiety; and seeds of mindfulness. Consciousness is the storehouse that contains all these seeds, all possibilities that might arise in our mind. When our mind is not at peace, it may be because of the desires and feelings in our store consciousness. To live in peace we have to be aware of our tendencies our habit energies so we can exercise some self-control.

This is the practice of preventative health care. We look deeply into the nature of our feelings to find their roots, to see which feelings need to be transformed, and we nourish those feelings that bring about peace joy and well-being.